This Friday is December 7. It was on a quiet Sunday, December 7, 1941 that the world changed forever for those who would become known as The Greatest Generation. They fought to save our nation and many lost their lives. We’re forgetting about golf today and re-visiting those months following the attack. This is from my Bleacher Report archives and it is my late mother’s first-hand account of the devastation that plunged our nation into World War II. The U.S.S. Arizona remains as a silent, solemn memorial to that day and the years that followed. There were 1,172 good men who lost their lives aboard the Arizona that fateful morning, 1,102 are still entombed on their ship. Too many people will forget that this Friday marks this anniversary but those of us who were privileged to be raised by The Greatest Generation will carry those memories passed to us by our parents. This is the story as told in 2009 by my mother — Lt. Anna Kaseta.
Lt. J.G. Anna Kaseta, United States Navy Nurse Corps, waited restlessly in San Francisco for more than two weeks to ship out to Pearl Harbor. It was early March 1942, barely 90 days after the Japanese attack.
She was 26-years-old as she and her friends boarded the U.S.S. Henderson, a transport, that would join a large convoy to Pearl.
“It took five days to get there,” she remembers. “It was a large convoy. When we got our first glimpse of Pearl, it was devastating. It was horrifying to see all those ships just laying there under water. It was worse than we imagined,” recalled Kaseta, the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants.
It was the first time they had seen what the aftermath at Pearl looked like. The government had controlled what information came out of Pearl. “No one had any idea of how bad it was,” she remembered.
She was one of 20 nurses at the Naval Hospital at Pearl. They were there to help restore order and take care of what would be large numbers of casualties from the fighting in the South Pacific.
“We were always busy,” she recalled. “It was an education; soldiers and sailors who were patients recovering, helped us with the other patients who were worse off.”
It was simply Americans helping Americans; it was the spirit of the time.
She found friends for life in fellow nurses Phyllis Dana, Helen Rhodes, and Mary Fussell. They worked hard, very hard, but they also found time to relax and discover Hawaii.
It didn’t take long for heavy casualties to find Pearl.
“Midway, Midway Island,” Kaseta remembered. “They had a terrible time evacuating the casualties, we were ready to pack our bags, thought we’d have to ship out to Midway.”
In all, Kaseta spent 18 months at Pearl.
“It was the best of times and the worst of times,” she said. “We all worked together, we had to.”
Those nurses were a small piece of the machine that helped the United States recover from the attack.
Amazing, was that most of those torn and sunken ships at Pearl were salvaged and put back in action.
“Seemed like it took forever,” Lt. Kaseta remembered, “but they got them out, all but the Arizona.”
The Arizona Memorial remains the focal point of Pearl Harbor today. And those days at Pearl remain etched in the memories of all who served there.
Of the four friends from Pearl, only Kaseta and Fussell are around today. They are members of our “Greatest Generation.” There are so few left and the number decreases each year that passes.
Today marks 68 years since the attack.
At age 93, Kaseta remembers Pearl like it was a month ago.
We should try and remember the time, but even moreso, the spirit and resolve our country showed in the face of disaster. It was a time like no other and produced men and women who helped forge the greatness of America.
Author’s note: Anna Kaseta married a Naval officer, Harold Edrington after the war. They were married for more than 50 years. Anna was the last of the four life-long friends who bonded at Pearl Harbor. She passed away on July 11, 2015, six weeks shy of her 99th birthday. The passing of George H.W. Bush this past week marked yet another member of The Greatest Generation who is now gone. There are fewer and fewer each day. So today, take a moment to think about them and how they rallied a nation and preserved our freedom when they were needed the most.